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New Baha'i worship center offers place to study faith

October 25, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

RANSON, W.Va. - If you're confused about the separation between religious denominations, a new religious center in Ranson is offering a new way of looking at things.

The first group of Baha'is formed in the Eastern Panhandle in 1996, and they now have their own center at the intersection of Third Avenue and Buchannan Street in Ranson.

There are plenty of denominations to choose from if one takes an interest in religion, but the Baha'is practice that there is one religion, said Helen Johnstone, who helped establish the local Baha'i center that started offering services July 1.

The Baha'i faith also believes there is only one God and one people, Johnstone said.

"There should not be prejudice in the world because we are one race," Johnstone said.

Is unity a distant ideal to be achieved only after the major problems of the world are solved?

The question is posed on the Web site Bahai.org.

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Baha'is believe the opposite is the case, and that the world's social, economic and political problems will be solved only after the "disease" of disunity is eradicated, the Web site states.

The Baha'i faith is an independent religion founded by Baha'u'llah (pronounced Bah-hah-ol-LAH), a Persian nobleman, in the mid-19th century, according to a press release about the new center.

The Baha'is believe that humanity is reaching its long-awaited stage of maturity, when a peaceful and just world finally can be realized, according to the official Web site of the Baha'is of the United States.

The Baha'is purchased the one-story building they use for worship from an Internet sales company, Johnstone said.

The building previously was used for worship by Jehovah's Witnesses.

There are about 20 people who practice the Baha'i faith in Jefferson County, and the public is invited Sunday to see the center and learn about the faith during an open house. The open house, which will begin at noon, will also offer food and a performance by the Washington (D.C.) Baha'i Chorale.

"Baha'is view the opening of this center as a milestone for the Baha'i faith in this area," Johnstone said in the release. "We want to make the center a place of beauty and channel for service to the whole community."

A group of local Baha'i members gathered at the center recently to talk about their study of the faith and the new center.

Group members say they are excited about planting attractive gardens around the center - a tradition of Baha'i worship centers - and they still are in the process of organizing the interior for their services.

Dara Shaw of Martinsburg, W.Va., said she likes the Baha'i faith because it takes all of the separate religious groups that have "splintered off" from each other and ties their teachings together in a sensible way.

"It shows how all the different religions of the world have the same core, spiritual teachings," Shaw said.

Amani Stevens of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said the Baha'i faith shows "the golden thread, the golden rule that runs through them."

Members of the group said the center is the only one to serve the Tri-State area, and is only the third in West Virginia. The others are in Charleston and Huntington.

The faith has no clergy, and in every locality where at least nine members reside - such as Jefferson County - a spiritual assembly is elected each year to administer the affairs of the community.

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